West cracks down on personal property and dumping on county roads

A camper left on the side of Rockydale near Waldo Dec. 10, 2022.
(Courtesy photo for the Illinois Valley News)

On Wednesday, July 26, the Board of Josephine County Commissioners held a public hearing in the matter of adding a section entitled ‘Hazardous Conditions on Public Property’ to the Josephine County Code at their Anne G. Basker Auditorium-set weekly business session.
Protecting county right-of-ways from debris dumping and transient activity was a priority Commissioner John West spelled out during his very first meeting as an elected official after winning election last November.
“That has caused a complete safety issue,” West had said Jan. 11. “My goal is to work with the sheriff and Public Works and our legal system on how we keep our right of ways safe. That’s going to be a process, but I think we can get there.”
In Chapter 8.20, the proposed new JCC section relating to hazardous conditions, right-of-ways are expressly mentioned, so the ordinance would appear to be a culmination of the “process” West predicted at the beginning of the year.
“The purpose of this chapter is to protect the community by ensuring the county has better control of stopped vehicles, unauthorized objects and personal property left on public roads or public property that create health, safety, or traffic hazards,” reads the ‘Purpose and Intent’ section of Chapter 8.20. “Further, this chapter is intended to control objects or appurtenances in county roads or rights of way that may prevent proper vehicle ingress or egress, interfere with road maintenance, or create hazardous conditions. To the extent that this chapter conflicts with existing city ordinances, it shall not apply to county roads lying within city limits. This ordinance shall be enforceable within the unincorporated areas of Josephine County and within the city limits of the City of Cave Junction, pursuant to consent provided under ORS 203.040.”
JoCo Assistant Legal Counsel Allison Smith explained that the new chapter “creates three different types of violations,” which she elaborated on.
“The first type of violation is that it is unlawful for any person to knowingly leave personal property in a county road, county right-of-way or on public property in a location that is hazardous to that individual or to other patrons or motorists,” Smith remarked. “The penalty for this violation is removal of the personal property if it remains there 24 hours after posting of an infraction complaint by the road authority or the road official or the sheriff.
“The second type of violation is the creation of an unlawful imminent hazard. An unlawful imminent hazard is created by a vehicle or an object that is left within the county road right-of-way or on public property that results in one of the following conditions: improper sewage disposal or excessive leakage of petroleum-based vehicle fluids including gasoline, diesel or lubricating fluids; the creation of a danger to Public Health or safety as defined in the Josephine County Code, including the accumulation of solid waste materials; or the creation of damage to a county road or right-of-way. When an unlawful imminent hazard exists the penalty is that the county may immediately remove that object or vehicle that is creating the imminent hazard and that removal would be done by the road official or the sheriff and to the extent that a public health hazard exists the public health director would be authorized to abate the public health hazard.
The third type of violation is the creation of an unlawful non-imminent hazard. This occurs when a vehicle or object is left in a county road right-of-way or on public property in excess of 72 hours provided that no other conditions exist that would constitute an imminent hazard in those situations. In an unlawful non-imminent hazard that vehicle or object creating the hazard could be removed within 72 hours after posting of an infraction complaint by the sheriff or the road official.”
Smith highlighted some key definitions found in the new chapter, including ‘hazardous condition’:
“A condition existing on a public road or public property that poses a danger to the public and/or is the result of criminal or drug activity, consumption of intoxicating, substances, accumulation of solid waste materials, storage of combustible materials or placement of unauthorized facilities, signs or appurtenances within the public right-of-way. A hazardous condition may also be created by personal property left in the hazardous location or a vehicle stopped in a public road, right-of-way or on public property.”
The assistant legal counsel also stressed that the new chapter will apply only to public roads. “This would not be enforceable on any private road or right-of-way or on private property,” she noted.
While the Cave Junction City Council opted to give the county consent to include CJ city limits as part of where the hazardous conditions ordinance can be enforced, the Grants Pass City Council did not take this step.
Board Chair Herman Baertschiger shared his opinion of the proposed new chapter, saying he is “always reluctant to create new ordinances or statutes because I believe that every law we create takes a little bit of freedom away from somebody but in light of this recent abandonment of derelict vehicles and trash and health issues and everything I think that we have to do something. It’s unfortunate that a small population of our community creates the necessity to do this because it does take a little bit of freedom every time we create a law but I do believe in this situation that we have to do something.”
Commissioner John West added, “This is about keeping our county safe and keeping the citizens safe. Some of these constitute a health hazard and so we’re trying to mitigate that and now that we’re in fire season we really don’t want this to maybe be part of a fire in some community because of something so we’re doing the best we can to try to mitigate some of the issues.”
A second reading and anticipated adoption of the hazardous conditions ordinance will take place Aug. 9 at 9 a.m. during the board’s weekly business session at Anne G. Basker Auditorium.